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Spiritual Practices Beyond Religion
Spirituality in Modern Psychology
Spirituality has previously held a very limited role within psychological and counseling strategies within the context of the Western world. In psychology, more traditional methods revolve around more scientific methods. Thus, spirituality has often been overlooked within the mental health genre as a way to bring greater capabilities to patients. However, as more alternative strategies begin to further intrude onto traditional Western medicines, spirituality is becoming a new and innovative strategy for psychologists and counselors to adapt to their already established strategy methods.
The mythology of spirituality impacts different people in very different ways. It helps shape how we view spirituality, but also how we attain our own sense of spirituality. According to the research, "mythology is the oldest path to the sacred," (Elkins 1998 p 191). As human beings, mythology was our first understanding of the spiritual realm, and the practice of continuing various mythologies has continued far into our own histories. Every society has its own mythology that is often associated with various religions, but should not be mistaken for a religion in its own right. Mythology tends to address the universalities of human existence, by participating in rituals, rights, and stories that relate to how we as humans are in tune with the world around us. Although the myths themselves often tend to include mysterious beings or gods, their basic message still remains true within the context of ancient and modern human life. What the myths represent are part of our lives, and thus we create a story behind them in order to examine them further and evaluate their importance. The fluidity and uncertainty behind our role in mythology has often led traditional religions, especially in the Western context, to dismiss them as falsehoods (Elkins 1998). Additionally, Western science has often made the concept of mythology a foreign one. We describe primitive medicine lore and spirituality as mythology, rather than calling it by its true name of spirituality, just consisting of individuals who seem foreign to us. Here, the research states that "when we view mythology as superstition or an inferior form of science, we dismiss it as irrelevant to the modern age," (Elkins 1998 p 193). Therefore, we tend to avoid implementing elements of mythology into our lives, including how we view ourselves spiritually. This has led to many religions denying their own foundations of mythology, and thus asking many who follow their doctrines to do so as well. What have resulted are individuals who do not allow mythology to influence their spiritual lives and teachings. Essentially, each individual takes different elements of very fluid spiritual teaching; they adapt certain elements to their lives, while others adapt much different ones. The research considers spiritual as "pertaining to the innate capacity to, and tendency to seek to, transcend one's current locus of centricity, which transcendence involves increased knowledge and love," (Chandler et al. 2001 p 170). Despite the fact that what may be digested is varied, the ultimate goal of spiritual teaching remains the same. Individuals are seeking some sort of connection to something greater than themselves.
Although psychology has typically dismissed elements of religion and spirituality in the past, modern methods have been much more receptive to elements of spiritual teaching. Spiritual well being is part of the elements covered by psychology and psychiatry Along with physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and occupational well-being, spiritual well being is part of what those within psychology focus on improving for individuals. Yet, it is the one element within caretaking that is often misunderstood and neglected the most. Here, the research posts that "Spiritual wellness is an element of emerging interest in health education and in counseling, but relative to the other five dimensions, it continues to lack clarity in definition and application," (Chandler et al. 2001 p 168). It is within this modern context of trying to understand what exactly spirituality is that most people studying its definition tend to get lost.
Yet, at the same time, the basics of psychology have had a long history with including various mythologies, despite the fact that spirituality was often left out of the general equation. In the earliest stages of the modern psychological theories, mythology often played a large role in understanding the human mind. For example, Carl Jung used elements of mythology in the creation of his psychological theory. According to the research, "Jung believed that mythology is a projection or externalization of the archetypes of the collective unconscious," (Elkins 1998 p 195). Essentially, the stories and rituals proposed by various mythologies represent the images and thoughts that hide deep within our own minds. The establishment of myths the, is a reflection of this internalized thinking. Therefore, psychology can learn to use various mythologies in order to better understand the psyche of the human mind, both past and present. For our entire history myths "externalized symbols of archetypical images and universal energies that reside in the deeper layers of the human psyche," (Elkins 1998 p 193). Psychological theory, including major influences like Carl Jung and even Sigmund Freud, examine and explore these myths as a better way to head deeper into the unconscious, and to understand how we as both individuals and collective societies really view the world around us from a standpoint unbiased by reason or science. At the same time, we are still living in a world seemingly devoid of myth. This creates a situation where the modern man is confused because he is detached from his most basic self. In this regard, the research states that "mythology supports civilization and when a culture loses its myth, deterioration is the result," (Elkins 1998 p 196). The modern man is no longer able to reflect his inner unconscious through the popular myths of his society, because we now live in a society where myths are no longer acceptable. What results is a confused self, one which psychology also cannot understand as well because of this misguided situation in a world without myths. Psychology is trying to play the role of balancing the myth and the man in order to save a civilization from itself. Through psychology, some elements of mythology and spirituality are kept alive in order to stop this deterioration process because of such confusion without the strong presence of the myth.
Part of the confusion here is the vague distinction between spirituality and religion. Religion is often defined in much too narrow of contexts, and often excludes the basic elements of mythology and spirituality. This then has the impact of affecting how spiritually is perceived. Unfortunately, our society has often showed that it has "a tendency to define religion too narrowly," (Peck 2002 p 185). This is one of the main factors that turn people away from religious practices. Spirituality, on the other hand, has a greater sense of freedom and liberation that allow the individual to feel attached to some abstract notion of spirituality, without being tied to down to a specified religious doctrine. Therefore, those who do not attend traditional churches or other religious affiliated events are often deemed as unreligious, and therefore not spiritual. Yet, this restricts individuals from achieving the positive benefits of spiritual teachings without the added restrictions of religious dogma. Thus, the research states that "Spirituality exists in the hearts and minds of men and women everywhere, within religious traditions and independently of tradition," (Vaughn 2002 p 16). How individuals experience it will depend on their own capacity to believe and respect elements of their spiritual teachings. This then impacts those who are responsible for spiritual teachings, because they must address individuals and their own unique characteristics. Pastors, and other religious and spiritual leaders, are essentially taking on the role of the counselor as well as the spiritual advisor (Chandler et al. 2001).
Still, spiritual teachings can only influence the actions of an individual; they cannot guarantee certain results of behavioral changes. Therefore, spiritual teachings will obviously impact individuals incredibly different. According to the research, "No words can be said, no teaching can be taught that will relieve spiritual travelers from the necessity of picking their own ways," (Peck 2002 p 310). Each individual makes spiritual teachings their own unique doctrines by adopting what they believe to be most pertinent in the context of their own lives. The individual must accept and believe in such spiritual teachings for them to actually make an impact on behavior and attitudes. Since spirituality in general has such a broad definition, it can thus impact individuals in many different ways.
Fortunately, modern psychology is now finding innovative ways to provide spiritual direction for psychological clients from different backgrounds. Spirituality was first introduced into counseling and psychology by Carl Jung and his adaption of mythology into psychological practices (Chandler et al. 2001). Freud and other psychologists followed suit, and now much of psychology tries to evaluate what little myths we have left in order to understand what is really going on in our individual and collective unconsciousness. Mythology…[continue]
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